A Wayside Tavern, by Nora Lofts

I came to this novel by a rather roundabout route. I had just watched the episode of Sandman (the new TV series based on the Neil Gaiman graphic novels) in which Death makes a deal with a man in 14th-century England who doesn’t want to die. Death grants him immortality on the condition that once every hundred years, the man will meet up with Death and tell him how eternal life is going. I loved the episode, and my favourite part about the whole concept was that they kept meeting up in the same location, which was a tavern in the 1300s and retained its nature as some kind of an inn/pub/etc throughout the centuries. Seeing how the tavern and its patrons changed over 700 years was one of my favourite things about the episode.

A day or two after I watched that, in a completely unrelated online conversation, someone mentioned this novel, which I’d never heard of, and of course I had to find it. The premise is that the same building on the spot in, I think, Suffolk, serves as some kind of a tavern or inn from the era when the Romans are pulling out of Britain, up to the mid-20th century. The story jumps forward a hundred years or more in each chapter, showing how the inn, the town around it, and the people running it (often descendants of the same family) change with the changing times. I loved the little glimpses into people’s lives and how they intersect with the larger stories of history, the details about the inn itself, the way unfinished stories from one time period would be referenced in passing as bits of family history years later, the tiny details that become memory and then legend — I just loved everything about this book. Great stuff.

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